Funeral Potatoes: The Next Chapter in My Life, Widowhood

The description of a new TV show says, “Friendship isn’t a big thing, it’s a million little things.” Well…yes. You can say the same thing about a life, and a marriage.

But I wish to mention here that there’s so little information about the third stage of a girl’s life, widowhood, that I decided to broach the subject.

No one ever told me that the loneliness would be this hard. No professional or counselor ever mentioned that after fifty-five years of coexistence with a single person, I would miss just hearing him breathe in bed next to me. That sleep doesn’t come easily without it. That all holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions would be meaningless. That, instead of smiling, I would cry looking at an old photo or watching the first snow through the window—something I used to do with my partner. A million times.

The “professional” advice is to make new plans that are different from your now past life, preferably with people in the same boat as you. “Easier said than done” can’t be overstated here. Looking for these solutions is daunting. Going on dating sites, getting all dressed up for a meet and greet over coffee or lunch, all to introduce yourself to a stranger. I don’t have the right motivation, or perhaps the stamina, for any of it.


In the Bronx, many years ago, there was an old widow woman who lived across the street. Now that old widow woman is me. Though she must’ve been about fifty years older than I was then, her story wasn’t so different than mine is today. It was a sweeter time back in the 1960s. Taking the time to visit with an elderly neighbor was more common. I loved to listen to stories of hardships: husbands out of work, pregnancies, storms that ravished homes and communities. But also, good times, like holiday meals. The special events she recounted, like christenings, weddings, and funerals, were more than noteworthy. They told a story of the life cycle we are all a part of.

Food is such a powerful catalyst—perhaps even beyond our comprehension. Maya Angelou said it best: “When you invite someone to your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.”

My elderly widow neighbor would invite widower gentlemen to lunch from time to time (my maternal grandfather was one of them). I understand much better her reasoning now that I’ve become a widow myself. Whether your mate’s passing was sudden or long and drawn out, it seems you’re never really prepared. How can you embrace this?

My husband of more than fifty-five years battled with serious health issues for at least five years before his body and mind decided it had had enough. He’s at peace, but I’m not. For lack of a better way to say it, I want to tell you: I feel I am paper thin.

No one prepared me for how lonely I would be. Lonely in a way I couldn’t understand. A partner, yes, a love, is a lifetime habit. How can I tell you that it’s not like in the movies, and flashbacks don’t come to you like magical moments whenever you want them? For me, the memories aren’t that vivid…they’re almost faded. They don’t come in Walt Disney colors. I wish they did.

You can never know what will set you off. A photograph, a song, the memory of peeling potatoes together for dinner, the sound of a teacup teetering on a saucer, laughing at something silly, or even just a sigh— all of these things can make you cry where smiles use to live. These unimportant moments are monumental. And this is the reality: it all hurts.

After the first few weeks and months…friends and relatives have gone back to their own lives, for the living have to live. No one told me that the old widowed woman who lived across the street was merely eager for human connection. Food was her way of creating her connection…her vehicle.

Writing and cooking are just two different means of communication, Maya Angelou said. The old widow lady who lived across the street and I agree upon this.

Funeral Potatoes

—Made by the widow lady over sixty years ago, and now by me.

Chef’s notes: This creamy casserole can be prepared at least one day in advance and kept refrigerated until needed. It’s an easy make-ahead dish and leftovers freeze well. If you don’t wish to use the sherry wine, you may substitute an equal amount of heavy cream or half and half. However, I believe the flavor of the sherry with this potato cheese dish makes it special. This recipe can be doubled or tripled for a large group if necessary.

5 cups organic Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, partially peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes, or 5 cups baby red potatoes, halved
3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup grated cheese (I use Swiss, but sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or other cheeses work as well)
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
3–4 tablespoons sherry wine or heavy whipping cream (see note above)
1 tablespoon each sea salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing casserole
Snipped chives for garnishing


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13-inch casserole (or other size large enough to hold the potatoes). Place potatoes in casserole and toss with olive oil.
  2. Mix buttermilk, cheese, dried onion, sherry wine or heavy cream, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Pour mixture over the potatoes and dot with butter.
  3. Bake 50–60 minutes, or until bubbly.
  4. Test a potato with the tip of a knife for tenderness. If needed, bake an additional 10–15 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle the snipped chives on top as a garnish if desired.
  6. Let the casserole rest for 5 minutes. You may serve hot or warm.

Image from iStock/bhofack2.

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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1 thoughts on “Funeral Potatoes: The Next Chapter in My Life, Widowhood

  1. Danielle LeBaron says:

    Phyllis, Maria asked me to post this reply to you:

    Hi Phyllis:

    Although there is truly very little anyone can do to ease your sorrow, I at the very least want to offer my sincere condolences and let you know that I am praying for healing for your deep loss for a loved one. Nevertheless since time immemorial people have had to cross that bridge and accept the reality that the natural law at some point in time causes every living person, animal, and plant to leave this plane. So the question, in my humble opinion that you must now ask is how will this on-going and ever present grief affect you?

    My brother lost his wife five years ago, and when he had a thorough physical a few months ago, they discovered that he actually had lesions in his heart muscle and weakened overall cardiovascular issues. Ironically with all the new technology now available, his doctor was able to pinpoint these injuries to the exact time period that his wife passed away! Prior to those tests all his heart tests were normal!

    So what I am saying is that grief is not just an emotional state, it is a sharp sword that has the possibility to inflict physical damage to a body. My bother and others I’ve had the privilege to work with on grief issues were able to cross over the bridge of grief to a new state of gratitude for the time they had been given with their loved one, and also freedom from its devastating effects if it’s allowed to go on for a long period of time. When we are grieving to a deep extent, we are placing ourselves in a victim state. We are in the end sorrowing for ourselves, which is totally natural and apparently necessary for us all. However there is life after those tragedies. I even wrote about it recently in this blog post:

    I would like to suggest that you give this great formula a try. This has many testimonies of it effectiveness to bring us out of the sate of deep grief. “Grief Relief Formula”,, I’ve spoken to numerous people about this formula, and they offered nothing but high praise for its efficacy. I highly recommend you give it a try and keep a bottle on hand! Just don’t let it get to the point where you cause any damage to your heart and life.

    “This too shall Pass”

    Be Blessed
    Maria Atwood, CHNP

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